The Bible repeatedly warns believers about false teachers -religious deception. (1 Timothy 4, 2 Tim 3:13, Matthew 7:15, Matthew 24:4-5, Acts 20:29-30, Gal 1:9, Ephesians 4:14, Romans 16:17-18). The strategy of Satan was always the same. As soon as the Lord does a work, Satan comes in and tries to undo it, and usually by false teachers, false doctrine.
Satan is not a mythological creature from a pre-scientific age; he is real, most wicked spirit being who has the capacity to influence human beings for evil. From the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11 – Testing in the Wilderness) to the end (Luke 22:3 – Judas Betrayal of Jesus), Jesus was in conflict with the powers of darkness. And it is the clear teaching of the apostles, Peter (1 Peter 5:8), James (James 4:7), John (1 John 2:13; 3:8; 5:18), and Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:5) that Satan is against the church and must be resisted by faith and the Word of God.
The tactics of Satan hasn’t change
The principle attack of Satan against God is aimed at disputing and assaulting His character and His word. It was then and it is now. The same tactic Satan successfully employed in the garden against Adam and Eve, is still being successfully employed in this age. The Five greatest ammunition in his armory are Doubt, Distortion, Denial, Defamation and Deification. Satan initiates his attack by planting a doubt in the mind about the inerrant and infallible Word of God (“Did God actually say..?” – Gen 3:1). Then he distorts and twists the Word, puts words into the mouth with an intention to shed doubts on the truthfulness and the character of God (“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” – Gen 3:1). Do you see the subtlety, the play on words? It is not what God said, though it sounds like it. What God actually said was “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, with one exception.” Third comes the denial, direct opposition against God’s Word. (“You shall not surely die” – Gen 3:4). Satan boldly denies what God said. In our day, Satan is a pluralist, propagating the idea that all religions are equal and leading to the same God when Jesus said He is the only way to God. Then he slanders God’s word suggesting it as a manipulative tool, (“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened” – Gen 3:5). Finally, he gives a false promise, (“You shall become like God” – Gen 3:6).
Divine Grace Vs Human Achievement
It appears on the surface as though there are thousands of religions, but there aren’t. There are only two religions in the world: The religion of human achievement and the religion of divine grace. The religion of human achievement comes under all kinds of brand names, but it is all the same thing. It could come under any name, Muhammadism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. Throughout all of the history of man, God’s religion of divine grace has been opposed by Satan’s religion of achievement or self-effort or self-righteousness. For every man who ever lived, ultimate salvation boils down to as simple a question as this, do I magnify my own achievement or do I humbly bow beneath the grace of God?
When Gospel is concerned there are two main categories (actually three):
- True Gospel – This is what the Bible teaches us. The truth of the Gospel is that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law. (Jesus Only)
- False Gospel – Close counterfeit of the true Gospel. The false gospel teaches we are justified by faith, but not without the deeds of the Law. (Jesus + Works)
- No Gospel – All the other Religions of the world (No Jesus at all)
There is a difference between error and heresy. We all err. Heresy is something that strikes at the very heart of the gospel and of the truth of the Gospel. It is a direct assault against the God of truth. The issue concerning any teaching should be assessed against the Word of God. If a teaching is Biblical (taken in context) it should be embraced. If it is not, it should be rejected. The teachings of many ‘Christian movements’ contain sound biblical teaching. But the system is so overlaid and interwoven with non-biblical and even unbiblical ideas and practices that it seems to resemble what Paul called “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6).
Battle between God’s truth and Satan’s lies
Paul was in a battle against those (Judaizers) propagating a false gospel. What was happening through Paul’s entire ministry continues to be happening today. There is a continuous war between God and Satan, between God’s truth and Satan’s lies. It is an endless battle. Satan is not just going to devise religions that are alternatives to Christianity, or that are anti-Christian, but Satan is very busy in creating false forms of Christianity -counterfeit religions. He twists the pure gospel of Christ and promotes a heresy.
Satan is a lire; that’s his own character. In John 8:44, Jesus very emphatically classified Satan as the father of lies. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Here is a classical fourfold definition of a false teacher: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10 – Character of Barjesus)
- He is a child of Devil
- He is an enemy of righteousness
- He is full of deceit and trickery
- He is a perverter of the ways of the Lord
Satan’s primary operation
Satan operates primarily in the area of false doctrine. Satan is very subtle. He wants to be as much like a Christian as possible. That’s deceit. If Satan is going to pervert the truth, he has to get inside the truth. He can’t stand on the outside and just yell at the truth. And, he gets into the truth and corrupts it from the inside. He appears very godly and very religious and all the time he is sowing the seeds of damnable heresy. In 2 Corinthians 11:13 Paul says, talking about false teachers, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” And, he continues to say, “Do not be surprised; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”
The primary objective of all false teaching is to attack the doctrine of salvation. It was a perversion of the gospel. It is the only way Satan can guarantee that the soul is damned and kept from God. Because, if you never get to the truth of salvation, the rest of it doesn’t mean anything. If you take grace and add anything to it, grace is no more grace. That’s the subtlety of Satan. He wants to make it so much like the truth that we mistake it. The deceit of the false gospel is that it sounds like the same gospel. True gospel brings eternal salvation and false gospel brings eternal damnation. False gospel cannot save. It is a Counterfeit!
The two most prominent groups that are clearly identified as present-day Judaizers are, the Hebrew Roots Movement and the Roman Catholic Church. When we see the teachings of Roman Catholicism, it is clearly a false Gospel! It is a close counterfeit for the true Gospel. It has Jesus in it, it has the Salvation part. But, its doctrine is a mixture of law and grace. They reason that such a grand gift as forgiveness from such a holy God must require some kind of payment from us. They reasoned “we thank God for His grace, but we understand that He expects us to somehow earn that grace. In other words, there must be something that we have to do to pay off the debt we owe to God.” At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Catholic Church explicitly denied the idea of salvation by faith alone.
Rome has always held that certain sacraments are necessary for salvation. They have substituted symbols, which never were in the Bible. At least the Jewish legalists could go back to a system, which though now obsolete, had originally been instituted and prescribed by God Himself in the Old Testament. But Roman Catholicism has invented their own non-Scriptural system of works, and ceremonies, for example, Rosary Beads, prayers to the saints and Mary, formula prayers, penance, veneration of saints and angels, etc., which never were in the Bible. None of it is in the Old Testament. None of it is New Testament. Even the worst form of Jewish ritualism never went so far as to invent all of that kind of wild stuff.
Paul said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” To add anything to the work that Christ did for salvation is to negate God’s grace. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, not by returning to the Law. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).
God Curses False Teachers
False Teachers have always been something that God did not tolerate. God says they are anathema, they are accursed, and they are devoted to destruction. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).
In every age, there have been false prophets but concerning the last days God makes some very specific statements in Matthew 24:24. It says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” That means they are extremely cunning. Peter also warns in his 2nd letter (Ch.2:1), “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
Paul does not have a cotton candy concern for the gospel. He does not offer sugary smiles in controversy. For Paul the gospel of Christ is the point at which the awesome life of God touches the life of this foul world of sin. He is extremely zealous for the Gospel. He does not make any apology to declare the truth and to tell anyone to the face who teaches a false gospel that he is accursed. Paul had just said something that will not win him many friends. But, Paul was willing to talk this way because pleasing people is much lower on his list of priorities than serving Christ. It is good to please people provided that pleasing them is a means to their salvation and their edification and to God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31-33; Rom 15:2-3).
Defending the truth of the gospel
Only a few Christians appear concerned about the existence of False teaching. Many people do not like the idea of confronting false teachers. Why? Calling someone a heretic or some teaching heresy may seem too judgmental. Of course we should not easily call other teaching as heresy, but if anyone publicly teaches a doctrine long recognized by the church as false, then we shouldn’t remain silent. Many Christians are unwilling and unequipped to challenge the faith they were raised in. We ought to care about Doctrinal truth. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail. Christians must, therefore, arm themselves against false teachers. That’s why, the serious attention to doctrinal maturity is crucial in the life of a Christian. We see what happened in the Galatian churches. They were quick victims of false doctrines. Had they known the true doctrine well enough they would have detected the false doctrine, the perversion at once.
Anyone who comes into the kingdom of God is defined by the New Testament as a soldier: one who has to defend the gospel, defend the Word of God, and defend the truth. Apostle Paul gives us a model for defending the truth, and that is what he is doing in the book of Galatians. He is fighting for the truth of the gospel in the face of false teachers who were propagating a false gospel. True, simple, pure salvation, as understood in the new covenant, is always cluttered up by the ritualists. It was then. It is now. The battle Paul had in AD 51, still continues. The reformation Martin Luther started 500 years ago, is not finished, and it still continues.
Book of Galatians, Martin Luther’s Commentary
Fundamentals of Catholic dogma by Ludwig Ott
Catechism of the Catholic Church – Vatican publication
1917 Code of Canon Law with Commentary by Dom Charles Augustine Bachofen
The Gospel According to Rome – James G. McCarthy
The ‘Gospel’ According to Rome – Nathan Busenitz
Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern – John MacArthur
Explaining the Heresy of Catholicism – John MacArthur
Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics – By: Ron Rhodes